Josèfa Ntjam20.10.22 - 23.10.22
For the first edition of Paris+ by Art Basel, NıCOLETTı is delighted to present a solo exhibition of newly commissioned artworks by French artist Josèfa Ntjam (b. 1992, Metz). Inspired by Afrofuturism, natural history and science-fiction, Ntjam’s practice combines sculpture, installation, photomontage, performance and film, in which she uses the method of assemblage – of images, words, sounds, and stories – to deconstruct hegemonic discourses on origin, identity and race.
At Paris+ par Art Basel, Ntjam presents a new series of photomontages printed on ChromaLuxe panels, a material that allows for images to be infused directly onto coated metal sheets. Made of archival photographs, 3D scans of objects and microscopic views of organic materials, Ntjam’s photomontages conjure an opulent universe in which, collapsing the micro and the macro, documentations of historical events and representations of ancient African deities merge with a vast array of abstract cellular shapes and aquatic elements.
In the group of works presented at Paris+, Ntjam specifically evokes the story of feminine figures who have participated in independence movements in Africa, as well as political dissidents involved in anti-racist organizations in Europe and the United States. By juxtaposing images drawn from her family archives with portraits of political figures such as American political activist Angela Davis (b. 1944), Taytu Betul (1851–1918), the empress of Ethiopia who notably led wars against Italy in the 19th century, and French activist Assa Traoré, leader of the Truth and Justice for Adama (her brother, who died in police custody in 2016), Ntjam deconstructs the hierarchy between personal and collective history while drawing a parallel between the wars of independence in Africa and the resistance movements in which members of its diaspora continue to be involved today.
This non-linear perception of history and geography is reinforced by the conflation of historical events with images of micro-organisms, whereby Ntjam makes analogies between molecular processes of division, coagulation, proliferation – e.g. the human blood coagulation system –, and the micro-organizations that spread within disparate cells of society to infiltrate and contaminate dominant political bodies.
Shown within an immersive setting comprising a sequence of wallpaper made of closeup images of Sauce Noire [Black Sauce] – a mix of roots, spice and oil used in Cameroonian cuisine –, Ntjam’s photomontages will be accompanied by two sculptures made of 3D printed ceramic. Confronting the discourses of objective sciences with ancient beliefs and myths, the first sculpture is an autoportrait of the artist as a Sphinx, with her body composed of lion legs and a 3D scan of her face overhung by a range of mountains. Entitled Mont Analogue, the sculpture is inspired by René Daumal’s eponymous novel, in which a group of adventurers climbs a mountain on a surreal continent, where they hope to enter in communication with the hereafter.
The second sculpture is a totem devoted to the eternal cycle of time. In Dream’s Whisperer (2022), Ntjam takes inspiration from the tables that the Incas used to grind grains, alluding to the permanent transformation and rebirth of natural elements. Decorated with a lion’s head sticking a snake tongue, the base of the sculpture holds a cylindric trunk adorned with flowers, jellyfish and human hands dissolving into water drops. The top represents Mami Wata, a voodoo figure and fish-woman divinity venerated in much of Africa, where she can be alternatively represented as a monster, a mermaid, a dangerous woman or a saviour.
Reflecting upon ideas of fluidity, hybridity and mutation, the two sculptures complement a display in which Ntjam speculates on the possible interconnectedness between historical mechanisms, natural organisms and molecular processes, diving into the microcosmic to capture the sparkling textures of personal and collective memories.